Belfast Telegraph

Troops taught killing of rioters Army doctrine, says ex-Para officer

Questions: David Benest
Questions: David Benest
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A former Parachute Regiment officer has claimed troops may have believed killing rioters was acceptable Army practice.

Colonel David Benest, who was commanding officer of 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment from 1994 until 1997, described his first tour in Northern Ireland, in 1973 as "eye-opening".

Writing in The Guardian newspaper in a piece opposing any amnesty from prosecution for former members of the armed forces, Col Benest recalled taking part in drills which ended with a direction to "shoot dead" a Gurkha soldier posing as the ringleader of a rioting mob.

"Small wonder, perhaps, that some soldiers may have been under the impression that killing rioters was accepted Army doctrine," he added.

He also explained that, as a younger man, he "swallowed whole the regimental line" that the soldiers from the 1st Battalion who opened fire on Bloody Sunday did so only after coming under attack from gunmen.

He stressed there were serious questions about responsibility for the Army's chain of command as regards the massacre. Col Benest said he believed that most soldiers "performed commendably" in Northern Ireland, but he also accepted that some had not.

"In situations where life was endangered or lost, a young 'tom' was in effect a witness, a prosecutor, jury, judge and, if required, executioner, all in a matter of a split second," he wrote.

He maintained that an amnesty for former soldiers was a bad idea because it missed the point that the armed forces were meant to act in accordance with the law, even in situations where it was absent.

His comments came after Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt proposed new legislation that would protect soldiers from prosecution, except in exceptional circumstances.

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